As Remote Work Drives Up Demand For Third Places, COVID Has Made It Harder to Find or Create Them

This is a work-in-progress reflection, rather than a complete or polished blog post.

A thought I've had for a long time: our culture needs richer "third place" options. There's home, there's work, and then there's the third place, which can be book club, running partners, fellow volunteers, members of the same church congregation, a gamers' guild, bar friends, a bowling league, a birding group, whatever. As the social/non-work component of work life diminishes due to the rise in remote work, there's a greater need for structures from which social interactions and support spin off. Like going to a maker space with the intention of making stuff *and* the hope of maybe also meeting people, being swept up naturally in the great social stuff that comes from shared interests. I think this was already something that was hard to find or create pre-Covid, but the pandemic made it a LOT harder. People turned to online social networks, but these tend to be strictly cerebral, less likely to lead to the sort of satisfaction and opportunities to connect emotionally that come from in-person activities.

When I think back on the third places that worked best for me (after graduating from college... because it was so comparatively easy to find these things in high school and college), some that come to mind are: writers group; living on a boat (shared problems of dock life brought people together); volunteering; sharing a weekly veggie box with another household; playing racquetball; being a regular at an independently owned bar; bowling league; moving into a 7-unit condo where we had to collectively make the rules and solve "startup" problems. You could argue that dock life and the condo weren't really "third place" situations, since they centered on home... but I think they count because they were about community beyond just me, my wife, and our cats.

Making these kinds of things happen is hard. It takes initiative, research, trial-and-error, knowing people, the courage to break the ice with strangers, etc. As a kid, my parents were active churchgoers. Every time we moved, which was every 3-5 years, they would join a new congregation and make connections through the church. Now that they're "retired", my dad is a Catholic deacon, and has a central role in a very active community. I left the church as a teenager and never looked back... but I admire the structure it provides for a lot of people, the role it plays in our society as a third place.

What third places work best for you? Do they lead to further social interactions, or are they just their own thing?

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